IEC speaks at UNIDO conformity assessment workshop for developing countries
While conformity assessment is a given in industrialized countries, the concept has not necessarily been fully integrated into developing economies. Recognizing the need to raise awareness and provide a better understanding of the specific requirements linked to standardization and conformity assessment activities, UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) has been implementing a series of projects, tailored specifically for developing countries.
Partnership with international standardization organizations
UNIDO saw the benefit of working in partnership with international and regional organizations that have broad experience and know-how in the fields of standardization and conformity assessment. After initially working on some projects with ISO (International Organization for Standardization), the UN agency felt it was important to expand into other areas such as electrotechnology and telecommunications to cover the broadest possible scope and allow developing countries to tailor their infrastructure development to their own specific circumstances and needs. To do so, UNIDO approached the IEC and ITU (International Telecommunication Union).
Although each of the three international organizations has its specialist areas, there are commonalities as well, allowing a synergistic approach to be developed.
To promote this synergy, UNIDO has started to organize regional workshops. The objective is to engage developing countries in standards and conformity assessment activities and help them better understand the electrotechnical and telecommunications sectors, so that they can bridge specific gaps in their infrastructure.
Bangladesh hosts first workshop
The first of these workshops, which took place on 1-2 February 2012 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, brought together participants from Asian countries. They included policymakers and regulators, industrialists, academics, laboratory professionals and accreditation officials.
On the first day of the workshop, experts from UNIDO, IEC, ISO and ITU introduced their respective organizations and presented their conformity assessment activities. They were joined by two other organizations: ILAC (International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation) and IAF (International Accreditation Forum).
How the IEC CA Systems benefit developing countries
The IEC was represented by IECEE Executive Secretary Pierre de Ruvo, who presented the three IEC CA (Conformity Assessment) Systems: IECEE, the IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components; IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, and IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components.
IECEE: efficiency, protection and participation
The first part of de Ruvo’s presentation focused on IECEE organization and structure and its membership. He then explained in greater detail the function of the IECEE CB Scheme and the IECEE CB-FCS (Full Certification Scheme), the cooperation agreement between the IEC, ILAC and IAF and the new services that the System provides, e.g. energy efficiency, electric vehicles, hazardous substances.
De Ruvo then addressed the more specific issue of conformity assessment for developing countries, describing how developing countries can use and benefit from the IECEE System:
- to protect their countries from importing non-conformant or inefficient electrical goods
- as a basis for establishing a national conformity assessment structure – a testing laboratory and/or a certification body – to test non-certified products or to retest certified products as part of market surveillance activities
- to facilitate trade
In using the IECEE System, developing countries can ensure that products are safe and efficient, minimize risks to persons and property, take into account and contribute to environmental aspects and public health and support regulatory policies.
In the second part of his presentation, de Ruvo presented the other two IEC CA Systems: IECEx and IECQ.
Ex (explosive) environments are not found solely in industrialized countries: oil and gas extraction, refineries, mining, woodworking, grain handling and storage and textiles, as well as aircraft refuelling and petrol stations, can be found anywhere in the world. The IECEx System is designed to provide assurance that those who work in hazardous areas have the requisite skills and competence and that the equipment they use has been tested and complies with the relevant IEC International Standards in the IEC 60079 series on explosive atmospheres. And because equipment and machinery used by companies operating in hazardous areas has a high capital cost, it is often less onerous to repair a piece of equipment than to replace it. IECEx also assesses and certifies that organizations and workshops that provide repair and overhaul services to the Ex industry do so respecting the strict requirements outlined in IEC 60079-19, Explosive atmospheres - Part 19: Equipment repair, overhaul and reclamation.
In recent years, developing countries have played an ever increasing role in the electronic components sector. A great number of manufacturers have relocated part or all of their operations to Southeast Asia and, to a lesser extent, to Latin America and North Africa. This trend may in turn encourage local entrepreneurs to start their own electronic components business. In order for them to be competitive, developing countries have to ensure that their products are of the highest quality. Acquiring the know-how and the expertise to produce quality goods can also lead to the eradication of counterfeit and substandard components from their markets. IECQ is the perfect tool to help them achieve this goal.
Together, all three IEC CA Systems cover testing and certification for all electrotechnical areas, ensuring that products, equipment, installations and services are safe and reliable. Developing countries that participate in the IEC CA Systems also have the opportunity to attend regular workshops and trainings.
Following the IEC, ISO and ITU presentations, representatives from the Asian countries attending the workshop talked about the existing conformity assessment infrastructure in their country and specific market needs in the areas of electrotechnology, information technology and telecommunications. A panel discussion addressing conformity assessment routes to meet industry concerns about costs of certified testing and needs of developing countries to increase quality of service was last on the first day’s agenda.
The second day was devoted to breakout sessions. The assignment for each working group was to develop and present a roadmap for strengthening and upgrading existing standardization and conformity assessment infrastructure to achieve regional and international recognition. This again was followed by a panel discussion and the workshop’s final remarks and recommendations.
The workshop in Bangladesh was the first of its kind and a similar event may be organized in Africa later this year.